David Sokol is the heir apparent to Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway. I recently read several articles about this astonishing executive. He’s smart, wealthy, driven and intentional; not the type of person that wastes energy or time.
The most interesting thing to me was how Sokol touts his organizational values. Several years ago he laid out his principles in Pleased but Not Satisfied, a short self-published book about his management beliefs. Sokol’s six laws are: operational excellence, integrity, customer commitment, employee commitment, financial strength and environmental commitment.
These are wonderful values, but in and of themselves they are powerless. What gives them power is the imposing personality of a leader who tirelessly drives them home. I don’t know how effective David Sokol is in helping to create workplace environments that aren’t dependent upon his powerful confidence and charisma. What I believe with all my heart is that without people who believe in the “why” you do what you do, the “how” and the “what” do not bring significance to the work.
The best description I have seen of this concept is found at TEDx. Worldview is critical to aligning values for people who are connected to an organization; whether it is a family, business or church. The Biblical Worldview Institute uses this same premise to develop an understanding of how worldview (why) drives values (how) that determines behavior (what). Go back and click the TEDx link above. You’ll be glad you did.
Stephen Covey writes about the why in The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, see habit #3, “Begin with the end in mind”. He also addresses the “why” in The principles of Leadership. They’re both great reads and I highly recommend them. Covey drives home the fact that if we’re not intentionally principle-centric, then something else in our center (core purpose, or “why”).
If I met David Sokol, I would love to find out why he is driven to do what he does. Seeking money is not innately meaningful. It is a behavior (what) sculpted by values (how). One of his principles for business gives us particular insight into his how, but gives no indication of why. “Environmental Commitment” can be motivated out of a biblical stewardship theology, a monetary incentive, a personal affinity for creation or nature, or peer pressure. There are more potential “whys”, but of the four I listed, only one that does not change over time (biblical stewardship may manifest itself differently within a culture, but it does not change based on what people think).
What happens when principles are in conflict with each other? C.S. Lewis wrote, “Telling us to obey instinct is like telling us to obey ‘people.’ People say different things: so do instincts. Our instincts are at war. Each instinct, if you listen to it, will claim to be gratified at the expense of the rest.” In Sokol’s case, his ethical instinct became in conflict with his financial strength instinct, when the Waxman-Markey Bill was making it’s way through Congress in 2009. Sokol helped to lead the effort to lobby in the senate to kill the bill in the Senate.
The instincts and principles of the Sierra Club, the Nature Conservancy and more were firmly opposed to Sokol’s environmental ethic. Their principle of conservation and protection of the environment is rarely subverted by a financial principle. On the whole, people I’ve met from those organizations are living primarily for the purpose of the environment (what). That may sound like a worldview, but the actual “why” of their existence is peer pressure that leads to situational ethics. There is a strong emphasis on collaboration, shared learning and synergistic relationships. Those are all noble efforts (how), but the core purpose of their organizations is, on the whole, poorly defined and feeble-founded. An exception within the environmental movement is The Evangelical Environmental Network, claims to operate from the “why” of “tending to the garden” (a reference to the Genesis story of God entrusting Adam and his descendants to steward creation).
Why does David Sokol run businesses for Berkshire Hathaway? I’d like to know. Why did he (seemingly) oppose his environmental values by fighting the Waxman-Markey Bill? Because the “how” of his life was in conflict. I don’t know if his instincts were even at war with each other. Maybe it was such a simple financial decision that he never explored the environmental commitment that he claims to live.